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- Celibates - 10/57 -
Elsie to tell her, when M. Daveau drew the curtain aside, and picking his way through the pupils, came straight to her. He took the stool next her, and with a pleasant smile asked if she had ever drawn from the life.
'No,' she said, 'I have only copied a few pictures, you learn nothing from copying.'
He told her how she must count the number of heads, and explained to her the advantage of the plumb-line in determining the action of the figure. Mildred was much interested; she wondered if she would be able to put the instruction she was receiving into practice, and was disappointed when the model got down from the table and put on his trousers.
'The model rests for ten minutes every three quarters of an hour. He'll take the pose again presently. It is now eleven o'clock.'
M. Daveau laid the charcoal upon her easel, and promised to come and see how she was getting on later in the afternoon. But, just as the model was about to take the pose again, a young girl entered the studio.
'Do you want a model?'
'Yes, if she has a good figure,' said a student. 'Have you a good figure?' he added with a smile.
'Some people think so. You must judge for yourselves,' she answered, taking off her hat.
'Surely she is not going to undress in public!' said Mildred to Elsie, who had come to her easel.
Mildred worked hard in the studio. She was always one of the first to arrive, and she did not leave till the model had finished sitting, and during the eight hours, interrupted only by an hour in the middle of the day for lunch, she applied herself to her drawing, eschewing conversation with the students, whether French or English. She did not leave her easel when the model rested; she waited patiently sharpening her pencils or reading--she never came to the studio unprovided with a book. And she made a pretty picture sitting on her high stool, and the students often sketched her during the rests. Although quietly, she was always beautifully dressed. Simple though they appeared to be, her black _crepe de chine_ skirts told of large sums of money spent in fashionable millinery establishments, and her large hats profusely trimmed with ostrich feathers, which suited her so well, contrasted strangely with the poor head-gear of the other girls; and when the weather grew warmer she appeared in a charming shot silk grey and pink, and a black straw hat lightly trimmed with red flowers. In answer to Elsie, who had said that she looked as if she were going to a garden-party, Mildred said:
'I don't see why, because you're an artist, you should be a slattern. I don't feel comfortable in a dirty dress. It makes me feel quite ill.'
Although Mildred was constantly with Elsie and Cissy she never seemed to be of their company; and seeing them sitting together in the _Bouillon Duval_, at their table next the window, an observer would be sure to wonder what accident had sent out that rare and subtle girl with such cheerful commonness as Elsie and Cissy. The contrast was even more striking when they entered the eating-house, Mildred looking a little annoyed, and always forgetful of the tariff card which she should take from the door-keeper. Elsie and Cissy triumphant, making for the staircase, as Mildred said to herself, 'with a flourish of cards.' Mildred instinctively hated the _Bouillon Duval_, and only went there because her friends could not afford a restaurant. The traffic of the _Bouillon_ disgusted her; the food, she admitted, was well enough, but, as she said, it was mealing--feeding like an animal in a cage,--not dining or breakfasting. Very often she protested.
'Oh, nonsense,' said Cissy, 'we shall get one of Catherine's tables if we make haste.'
Catherine was their favourite waitress. Like a hen she seemed to have taken them under her protection. And she told them what were the best dishes, and devoted a large part of her time to attending on them. She liked Mildred especially; she paid her compliments and so became a contrary influence in Mildred's dislike of the _Bouillon_. She seemed to understand them thoroughly from the first. Elsie and Cissy she knew would eat everything, they were never without their appetites, but Mildred very often said she could eat nothing. Then Catherine would come to the rescue with a tempting suggestion, _Une belle aile de poulet avec sauce remoulade_. 'Well, perhaps I could pick a bone,' Mildred would answer, and these wings of chicken seemed to her the best she had ever eaten. She liked the tiny strawberries which were beginning to come into season; she liked _les petites suisses_; and she liked the chatter of her friends, and her own chatter across the little marble table. She thought that she had never enjoyed talking so much before.
One evening, as they stirred their coffee, Elsie said, looking down the street, 'What a pretty effect.'
Mildred leaned over her friend's shoulder and saw the jagged outline of the street and a spire beautiful in the sunset. She was annoyed that she had not first discovered the picturesqueness of the perspective, and, when Elsie sketched the street on the marble table, she felt that she would never be able to draw like that.
The weather grew warmer, and, in June, M. Daveau and three or four of the leading students proposed that they should make up a party to spend Sunday at Bas Mendon. To arrive at Bas Mendon in time for breakfast they would have to catch the ten o'clock boat from the Pont Neuf. Cissy, Elsie, and Mildred were asked: there were no French girls to ask, so, as Elsie said, 'they'd have the men to themselves.'
The day impressed itself singularly on Mildred's mind. She never forgot the drive to the Pont Neuf in the early morning, the sunshine had seemed especially lovely; she did not forget her fear lest she should be late--she was only just in time; they were waiting for her, their paint-boxes slung over their shoulders, and the boat was moving alongside as she ran down the steps. She did not forget M. Daveau's black beard; she saw it and remembered it long afterwards. But she never could recall her impressions of the journey--she only remembered that it had seemed a long while, and that she was very hungry when they arrived. She remembered the trellis and the boiled eggs and the cutlets, and that after breakfast M. Daveau had painted a high stairway that led to the top of the hill and she remembered how she had stood behind him wondering at the ease with which he drew in the steps. In the evening there had been a little exhibition of sketches, and in the boat going home he had talked to her; and she had enjoyed talking to him. Of his conversation she only recalled one sentence. She had asked him if he liked classical music, and he had answered, 'There is no music except classical music.' And it was this chance phrase that made the day memorable; its very sententiousness had pleased her; in that calm bright evening she had realised and it had helped her to realise that there existed a higher plane of appreciation and feeling than that on which her mind moved.
At the end of July, Elsie and Cissy spoke of going into the country, and they asked Mildred to come with them. Barbizon was a village close to the Forest of Fontainebleau. There was an inn where they would be comfortable: all the clever young fellows went to Barbizon for the summer. But Mildred thought that on the whole it would be better for her to continue working in the studio without interruption. Elsie and Cissy did not agree with her. They told her that she would find the studio almost deserted and quite intolerable in August. Bad tobacco, drains, and Italian models--Faugh! But their description of what the studio would become in the hot weather did not stir Mildred's resolution. M. Daveau had told her that landscape painting would come to her very easily when she had learnt to draw, and that the way to learn to draw was to draw from the nude. So she bore with the heat and the smells for eight hours a day. There were but four or five other pupils beside herself; this was an advantage in a way, but these few were not inclined for work; idleness is contagious, and Mildred experienced much difficulty in remaining at her easel.
In the evenings her only distraction was to go for a drive with Mrs. Fargus. But too often Mrs. Fargus could not leave her husband, and these evenings Mildred spent in reading or in writing letters. The dullness of her life and the narrowness and aridity of her acquaintance induced her to write very often to Ralph, and depression of spirits often tempted her to express herself more affectionately than she would have done in wider and pleasanter circumstances. She once spoke of the pleasure it would give her to see him, she said that she would like to see him walk into the studio. But when he took her at her word and she saw him draw aside the curtain and look in, a cloud of annoyance gathered on her face. But she easily assumed her pretty mysterious smile and said:
'When did you arrive?'
'Only this morning. You said you'd like to see me. I had to come.... I hope you are not angry.'
Then noticing that the girl next them was an English girl, Ralph spoke about Mildred's drawing. She did not like him to see it, but he asked her for the charcoal and said if she would give him her place he would see if he could find out what was wrong; he did not think she had got enough movement into the figure.
'Ah, that's what the professor says when he comes round _toujours un peu froid comme mouvement._ I can get the proportions; it is the movement that bothers me.'
'Movement is drawing in the real sense of the word. If they would only teach you to draw by the movement.'
He continued to correct Mildred's drawing for some time. When he laid down the charcoal, he said:
'How hot it is here! I wonder how you can bear it.'
'Yes, the heat is dreadful. I'm too exhausted to do much work. Supposing we go out.'
They went downstairs and some way along the Passage des Panoramas without speaking. At last Mildred said:
'Are you going to be in Paris for long?'
'No, I'm going back at once, perhaps to-morrow. You know I've a lot of
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